College basketball has been a whirlwind in the first three weeks of the season and it’s not expected to slow down. The reason? There aren’t any clear leaders thus far, especially when it comes to 3-point shooting. Last year, the national D1 average for 3-point shooting was 34.4 percent. Entering play last Tuesday, the D1 average was sitting at 32.2 percent, which might not seem like much, but is actually an average of nearly four more missed threes a game.
The new 3-point line has also forced teams to make adjustments defensively. Moving back the line has opened the lane, making it tough to get help from backside defense. Virginia is one contender for the No. 1 spot that hasn’t had trouble stopping teams from scoring, though.
Tony Bennett’s reigning champions are No. 7 this week, but the team is 4-0 on the season. Virginia has consistently persevered with their top-of-the-line defense, and this year is no different. The Cavaliers have held their opponents to a combined 165 points (an average of 41 points per opponent).
Virginia lost top shooters to the NBA in Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome, and while Virginia’s new offense may still be adjusting to the 3-point line, no team has benefitted from the change as much as Virginia has defensively. After losing their leading scorers to the NBA, Virginia is back to a building year from behind the arc, but in the meantime, they won’t make it easy for their opponents to hit the lower-percentage shot.
The ways the new 3-point line has forced teams to make adjustments have shown in the first few weeks of the season as fans try to identify the team to beat.
We were barely two weeks into the 2019 season when Evansville pulled off, arguably, the upset of the year. Before the face-off, No. 1 Kentucky had already slid by No. 3 Michigan State 69-62 in their season opener during the Champions Classic, and proved their No. 1 spot as they handed it to Eastern Kentucky 91-49.
Evansville traveled to Kentucky as the clear underdog, but the Purple Aces maintained their first-half lead until the end, edging past Kentucky 67-64.
"If we [would've] somehow pulled it out, it would have been unfair," Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari said. "Because they were the tougher team, they made shots, and that's tough to do in this building. Give credit to Walter [McCarty]. He had his team better prepared than I had my team. They deserved to win."
The surprising part? Evansville’s stats really weren’t all that great. They averaged just 0.96 points per possession and made just 38.3 percent of their shots, but Kentucky was worse, averaging 0.91 PPP and making only 37 percent of their field goals. Evansville performed better in almost every aspect of the game. The Purple Aces shot an unimpressive 30 percent from behind the arc versus Kentucky’s 23.5 percent, and only missed one free throw to Kentucky’s five.
In fact, now that Kentucky has lost to an unranked team, there isn’t a clear No. 1 pick at this point in the pre-conference season. During the Champions Classic, the then No. 4 Duke climbed past No. 3 Kansas. Duke has moved to No. 1, but isn’t expected to breeze by Texas or Georgetown in the Empire Classic on November 22. If that loss occurs, Michigan State might move up to No. 1 in time for the Maui Invitational, which Kansas will also be attending and could easily upset the Spartans.
During the Champions Classic, which featured the perceived best teams entering the 2019 season, Duke went 8 for 24 from the three, while Kansas only attempted 9 threes. Michigan State made only 5 of 26 3-point shots against Kentucky’s 6 of 18.
In recent years, since the last time the 3-point line changed in 2008, 3-point shooting was becoming more and more popular, and predictable. Good teams were expected to perform well from behind the arc. Now, it seems the new 3-point shooting line has made college basketball unpredictable again. Teams who improve their 3-point shooting will quickly learn they have an advantage over even the top teams in college basketball. Teams will either have to get better at shooting from beyond 22-feet, or learn to dominate in other areas of their offense.